Stress Management and Emotional Health
What is stress management?
Everyone experiences stress at various times in their lives. It’s a normal reaction that occurs when you encounter changes or challenges (stressors). Your body responds physically and mentally to stress.
Stress management involves using techniques to improve how you respond to life stressors. These techniques can prevent or ease stress-induced symptoms.
How does stress affect your physical and mental health?
When you feel stress, you may experience:
- Anxiety, depression or panic attacks.
- Chest pain or racing heart rate.
- Fatigue or insomnia.
- High blood pressure.
- Upset stomach (indigestion).
What are the risks or complications of poorly managed stress?
People who feel overwhelmed with stress may turn to unhealthy behaviors to cope, such as:
What are ways to identify stress?
The first step to relieving stress in your life is to identify stressors. Something big like a move, job change or divorce is easy to identify. But small stressors can have a big effect on your physical and mental well-being, too.
You may want to keep a journal to track your stress levels and coping mechanisms. A journal can help you identify stressors and patterns. For a week or longer, write down:
- The cause of stress.
- How you feel physically and emotionally.
- Your reaction to the stressor.
What are ways to cope with stress?
There are lots of ways to cope with stressful situations. To get the most benefit, try to incorporate these techniques into your daily life — not just when you start having symptoms of stress. Most people find relief using a combination of methods.
- Laugh more: Studies show that laughing reduces the stress hormone cortisol. And it boosts your mood. Watch a funny show, or get together with someone who makes you laugh.
- Calm your mind: Mindfulness, meditation, massage and deep breathing exercises can lower your heart rate and calm your mind. You can also listen to your favorite tunes or to soothing sounds.
- Be physically active: Walking outside or exercising with friends can help boost mood. You can also try mindful physical exercises like yoga or tai chi.
- Eat a healthy diet: Aim for more fresh fruits and vegetables. Cut back on fatty foods, caffeine and sugar.
- Improve your sleep habits: Turn off electronics, create a soothing environment and unwind with a book or warm bath to sleep better.
- Stop using substances: Quit smoking and cut back on alcohol. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association national helpline at 1.800.662.HELP (4357) if you need help overcoming a substance use disorder.
- Keep a journal: Write down the day’s accomplishments. You can also capture positive events of the day or three things you’re grateful for.
- Make “me time”: Try to do at least one thing a day that’s just for you. It could be meditating, getting together with a friend, reading a book or working on a hobby.
- Seek help: A mental health professional can help you learn techniques to manage stress better. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a proven technique that can help you change how you respond to life stressors.
- Share your feelings: When you feel overwhelmed, connect with a trusted loved one or friend. Hearing a voice can help, either in-person or on the phone.
- Take control: Use lists or smartphone apps to better manage your time and pare down to-dos. Try planning your day the evening before, so you know what to expect — and what you might need to postpone. Give yourself permission to say no to other people’s requests.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I talk to a doctor about stress?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Anxiety or depression.
- Chest pain.
- Substance abuse.
- Suicidal thoughts.
What resources can help me?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stressful events and experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. This national network of local crisis centers provides 24/7 free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Stress is a natural and normal part of everyone’s life. You can’t completely eliminate stress — some stressors will always be out of your control. But you can use stress management techniques to handle how you respond to stressful situations. Talking to your healthcare provider is a good first step to finding healthful ways to minimize stress. If appropriate, your provider can refer you to a therapist or prescribe medications for anxiety or other stress-induced health problems.
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